Friday, January 08, 2016

Texas Gov. Abbott Accuses State Bar's CLE Committee of Religious Discrimination

Texas Lawyer reported yesterday that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has now weighed in on a refusal by the State Bar's Minimum Continuing Legal Education Committee to certify a law professor's continuing legal education program for "Legal Ethics/ Professional Responsibility" credit.  Under Texas MCLE rules, all lawyers must take 15 hours per year of continuing legal education, 3 hours of which must be in legal ethics/ professional responsibility.  The State Bar's Accreditation Standards provide:
"Legal Ethics and Legal Professional Responsibility" shall include, but not be limited to the accreditation of those topics involving disciplinary rules of professional conduct, rules of disciplinary procedure, and the use and availability of alternative dispute resolution and pro-bono services....
"Legal Ethics and Legal Professional Responsibility" shall not include programs or topics that deal with government or business ethics, individual religious or moral responsibilities, training in personal organizational skills, general office skills, time management, leadership skills or stress management.
Applying these standards, the State Bar's MCLE Committee refused to approve St. Mary's law school professor Bill Piatt's CLE program on "Christian Ethical Perspectives: Faith and Law Today" for ethics credit. Sponsors of the program are appealing to the State Bar of Texas board of directors.  Gov. Abbott's general counsel has written to the State Bar president urging a change in the definition of "legal ethics" in the MCLE rules, contending that the current definition is "based on a shallow and impoverished understanding of legal ethics and an unduly narrow view of legal education."  He suggested that the refusal to accredit could be seen as religious discrimination against the program sponsors.  A week later, Gov. Abbott posted a blunter statement on his Facebook page:
I'm accusing Texas State Bar of religious discrimination for denying continuing education credit for Christian legal ethics programs. The Texas State Bar leaders should be compelled to read my winning arguments upholding the Ten Commandments and "One Nation Under God."
The parties are meeting next week to try to work out a solution before the Jan. 21 appeal hearing.